Is There a 13th Astrology Sign?

Tropical astrology zodiac wheel

The news media rocked with the announcement of a 13th astrology sign discovery. While the world buzzed with this news, astrology experts yawned.

How It Started: Sensationalism Creates Confusion

Media sensationalism seems to be responsible for presenting the 13th sign as a brand new discovery when, in truth, it simply regurgitated a very old, not-so-newsworthy tidbit. In fairness, perhaps it was a discovery for those who weren't familiar with the lines that separate astrology from astronomy.

Controversy Erupts

The news that there is a new 13th astrology sign, was accompanied by even bigger news; that everyone was actually a different sign from what they believed. While this seemed like an amazing revelation to the general population, especially anyone with limited astrology knowledge, astrologers simply shook their heads. A deep misunderstanding of astrology and astronomy was the real culprit of the controversy and subsequent confusion.

Who Said There's a 13th Sign?

The story began in what seemed to be a routine interview with Parke Kunkle, Minneapolis Community and Technical College astronomy professor. The interview centered around star precessions through constellations, which is the natural shifting of constellations in relationship to the earth turning on its axis. During this interview, Kunkle discussed the precession of stars over the last three thousand years and mentioned that the sun now resides in a different constellation.

Media Blitz

What followed the interview was a worldwide media blitz fueled by social networking. Those who didn't understand the difference between astronomy's constellations and astrology's zodiac signs jumped to the conclusion that if the sun was in a different constellation, all of the astrology zodiac signs must also be in different constellations. Further incorrect conclusions were then drawn that every person who'd ever looked up their astrological sign had the wrong sign.

Astrology Not Really Based on Constellations

If you understand astrology, you quickly realize after reading about Ophiuchus, the supposedly new 13th zodiac sign, that it's like comparing apples to oranges, or in this case, constellations to astrology signs. Since Ophiuchus is a constellation and not an astrological sun sign, it's incorrect to call it an astrological sign, since it has nothing to do with tropical astrology.

Constellations Versus Astrology Signs

To understand why there isn't a 13th sign in tropical astrology, you must first understand the difference between constellations, astrology signs and sidereal astrology.

A constellation is a group of stars usually visible in the night sky. Historically, these groups have been depicted in various shapes and patterns, known as the zodiac. This is a term shared and used by both astronomy and astrology, but that's where the similarities end. Perhaps it's because both sciences share the same term that some people confused the 13th sign with astrology.

Understanding an Astrological Sun Sign

Astrology is a season-based system that recognizes the four seasons of nature: winter, spring, summer and fall. These seasons are earth-bound, meaning their relationship is with the sun's movement, not the movement of constellations. Each of the four seasons contains a group of three sun signs (quadruplicities) that create a total of 12 zodiac or sun signs. The quadruplicities are cardinal, fixed and mutable. These twelve signs are separated from each other by 30 degrees to complete a 360 degree circle. Each degree is assigned a specific characteristic.

Cardinal signs represent seasonal changes:

  • Aries (spring)
  • Cancer (summer)
  • Libra (autumn)
  • Capricorn (winter)

Fixed signs are unchanging:

  • Taurus
  • Leo
  • Scorpio
  • Aquarius

Mutable signs are changeable:

  • Gemini
  • Virgo
  • Sagittarius
  • Pisces

These are some very simplistic and basic principles of astrology, but quickly demonstrate how they have nothing to do with star precession through constellations.

Ophiuchus, the 13th Sign

Ophiuchus is neither a newly discovered constellation nor is it significant to tropical astrology. Ophiuchus is just a constellation and is depicted in modern symbolism as a human male holding a snake (constellation Serpens) in one of his hands. To put Ophiuchus into perspective, it helps to know a little more about the historical references of this constellation and the history of astrology. Claudius Ptolemy (90 AD - 168 AD) is credited as being the father of astrology. In his astrology doctrine, Tetrabiblos, he discusses only 12 zodiac signs, but is aware of Ophiuchus, the constellation, along with all the other constellations.

Did Astrologers Just Ignore Ophiuchus?

Many people incorrectly assume that astrologers simply chose to ignore the 13th sign, citing all kinds of probable reasons. However, it's clear from Ptolemy's writings that the 13th sign was never lost or forgotten. It simply isn't a zodiac sign and has no place in the tropical zodiac wheel.

Tropical Versus Sidereal (Vedic) Astrology

Almost 2,000 years ago, a group of astrologers decided to change from a tropical (earth-based) astrology system and created a fixed-star astrology (constellation-based) form. In doing this, they chose to add Ophiuchus, a fixed star constellation, into their new astrology system, increasing the number of signs to 13. This is the most important thing to understand about the difference between tropical and sidereal astrology.

Another very important difference is that in order to create this new constellation-based astrology, the sidereal astrologers assigned the sun signs to specific stars. For example, Aries was no longer the fixed ecliptic beginning point of zero on the astrological wheel of the 360 degrees.

What It Means for Your Chart

You may wonder what significance Ophiuchus has in regards to your individual astrological chart. Unless you follow sidereal astrology, it has absolutely no significance or impact on your astrological chart. Your sign hasn't miraculously changed overnight. Once the fog masking this controversy clears, it's easy to see that this is simply a case of two differing factions in astrology; the western/tropical system, and the Vedic/sidereal system. It's up to you to decide which system rings most true, and which you prefer to use.

Moving Beyond the 13th Astrology Sign

The 13th astrology sign misunderstanding certainly rocked many people's perceptions about which sign they were, if for only a brief moment. It also opened a door for educating the general population about astrology and helped clarify what it is, and more importantly, what western astrology isn't.

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Is There a 13th Astrology Sign?